Honeybee Day this Saturday!

Honeybee on Butterfly Bush 4This Saturday 8/18 9am-3pm is Honeybee Day at the State Farmer’s Market in Raleigh.  It’s a special event day to celebrate the hardworking honeybees who transform our flowers into food. We will be there with some amazing raw honey from this year’s harvest plus our NC themed handmade soaps, jam, and gifts. We have some new things planned this fall.  Stop by to see what’s coming and say hi to the bees in our observation hive.

Honeybee in NC

One of our honeybees hitching a ride

At our booth, you can also register for a chance to live the dream – Bee a Keeper for a day! Win a spot in an upcoming workshop where you can learn bee basics, attract them to your garden, get your hands into a real hive, and even harvest honey to take home. If you’ve ever wanted to try out beekeeping without the commitment or equipment investment – this is your chance.

NC Raw honey

Real honey is liquid gold!

There will be lots of other vendors on hand with all sorts of bee info as well as honey and hive products. Come out to do your market shopping and enjoy the naturally sweet gifts from the bees!

Advertisements

The Buzz in my Ear

I confess that I’m not a shopaholic.  But I love unique finds.  Things that speak to you. For me, it often involves bees.  And boy do they show up everywhere. I pin these – either instead of buying them, or to remind me to buy them.  Either way, it’s my curated collection of honeybee love.  Pinterest is always a great source for gift ideas.

I think my favorite are the bee earbuds.  Sadly they show as out of stock every time I’ve  clicked.  Bummer.  I think it would be great fun to stick the little buzzers in my ears to listen to a podcast or some music while prepping dinner.  And speaking of podcasts, these have become my new go-to when driving deliveries, kids, or errands.  Sometimes I  need something more than music but less than politics.  Go podcast.  It’s like an audio magazine for any niche you can dream up.  Cooking, shopping, fashion, sports, business, metal detecting, art, hunting, human interest and yes, there are even beekeeping podcasts.  I’ll spare you the nerdy details.

One of my favorites has to be Mike Rowe’s The Way I Heard It.  He tags it as “The podcast for the curious mind with the short attention span.”  Count me in.  He tells tales of human interest, generally well-known figures you will recognize, but from an obscure angle.  The blissfully brief show weaves a tales of humble beginnings, quirky side hustles, or scandalous news that you’ve probably never heard.  My two favorites are “The Merry Christmas” edition with the ominous red phone that never rings, and “A Potty Mouth with a Secret” about more than concealed recipes.  The stories are well told, interesting, and quick enough to fit between errand stops.  Great fodder for future cookouts and cocktail parties.

You Bet Your Garden with Ed McGrath (of former Organic Gardening fame) is another favorite.  This call-in style show is wildly entertaining for the garden-inclined.  McGrath has both the knowledge and witty sense of humor to answer backyard gardening questions from around the country.  There is always a question of the week which he delves into more detail.  Topics range from tree mulching, fig protection, and irrigation ideas.  Long form style but broken up with lots of question segments that make it easy to pause and pick up again later.

Theresa Loe hosts Living Homegrown, a podcast about “living farm fresh without the farm”.  Since we have the farm, I thought I’d have graduated from this one.  But Theresa covers a variety of topics on critter keeping, cooking, gardening, and preserving.  I loved her recent show on making true pickles (fermented pickles – not those bootleg quick pickles I’ve been making all these years).  Just when I think I could host the show, she brings on a new topic in bread baking or making hard cider at home.  and I love her forgiving approach that any small step is progress.  Great for the DIY’er with limited or abundant space.

Special Sauce by Serious Eats creator Ed Levine is a solid choice for any foodie.  Although I’m not in the know enough to catch all of the chef name dropping that goes on, I still enjoy the topics.  His recent interview with Rodney Scott about his childhood work ethic and roots in pit barbecue was real and refreshing.  I listened to this one as we were extracting sourwood honey last week.  (Extracting can be a repetitive and arduous task – but rewards the laborer with drippy honeycomb to chew on while working/listening.)  Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ is now on my bucket list.

Hunt, Gather, Talk is a niche podcast for the outdoorsmen in your life.  Author Hank Shaw talks edible foraging, fishing, wild food prep, and outdoor skills.  all neatly sown together and presented on a rustic audio table.  A must for the hunter or chef of the hunter.

My newest indulgence is Potluck.   A duo of Will & Chris discussing all sorts of southern culture.  Most recently was a dive into the regional sodas made in the south.  The NC ones I knew (Cheerwine floats from Cookout are well loved round here).  But there were all sorts of others that I’d never heard of – like Cannonborough Blueberry Vanilla and Buffalo Rock Ginger Ale.  Plus some great reminders of Barq’s, Nehi, and Sundrop.  Glass bottles rule.  Long-form conversational podcast on a variety of interesting stuff – especially if you are into bourbon.

Iphone podcast

Iphone podcast icon

If podcasts are new to you, click the purple podcast icon on your iPhone to get started.  Then check out the iTunes Store or Stitcher for podcasts.  Search and ye shall find.  If you are already a podcast addict, share your favorites in the comments below.  I’d love to add to my library que!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keep Summer Going

Vacations inevitably end.  But you can take home the smell of your summer beach trip with our new handmade soap NC Beach Collection.  This trio joins our OBX Sea Salt Soap to keep your skin smelling salty even after the tan fades.

Yellow Summer Feel Photo Collage-2.jpg

My new NC Beach Collection includes the raw beauty of the NC Shoals, hip East Beach, and swashbuckling Cape Fear.  The collection is currently available at our newest retailer – Riverside Adventure Company on Bald Head Island and will be washing ashore in our Etsy shop too.  But like popsicles and fireflies, it won’t be around all year!  Grab some to gift to your fellow beach bums or vacation hosts before it goes out with the tide.

IMG_0286.PNG

NC’s Favorite Recipe?

Summer barbecues and potlucks mean signature dishes.  Every family and locale has something they are known for.  July is full of such occasions.  Not sure what to bring?  How about North Carolina’s signature dish?  Meet Google doodle.

wilmington-nc-farmers-market

If you are new to these, Google makes these tidy little interactive graphics on all sorts of topics.  This month, they curated every state’s most popular recipe (a Google foodle!), including North Carolina.  I played along thinking I’d score a barbecue recipe or a blueberry cobbler, maybe even a sweet potato casserole.  So I jumped on the doodle link and scrolled to NC.  Know what I got?  Snow cream.

snow-ice-cream-11

Photo by Gimme Some Oven

Let that sink in.  North Carolina’s most popular recipe: snow cream.  I was bewildered.  Although refreshing, snow is hard to come by in July.  And it doesn’t exactly fit the guise  of seasonal eating either.  (You snow cone loyalists stand down.  I’m talking traditional dishes.)  I scrolled through the other states – SC: chicken bog (stew), CA: quinoa, MD: crab dip, KS: meatballs, UT: zucchini bread, WI: meatloaf.  Surprising but reasonable.  Snow cream?

Some investigation into the methodology unraveled the problem.  While billed as ‘Every State’s Most Popular Recipe’, the doodle results were aggregated from the most recipes searched in the last 12 months.  There are 2 glaring issues with this:

  1. People don’t search for recipes they know how to make.  They are searching for things they want but have no clue how to prepare.
  2. NC had above average snowfall last winter.  9″ in the Triangle area.  (I know northerners, whoopee!).  But what do you do with an unexpected mountain of snow and kids at home for a week?  Google snow cream.
statefair

Photo by Chatham County Dept of Agriculture

So I’ll let it go.  All this doodling begs the question of NC’s favorite recipe.  This isn’t the tomato/vinegar sauce debate that gave rise to t-shirts and license plates, but a signature dish.  When someone comes to NC, what do they have to eat?  I think it should feature a NC product.  According to the NCDA, here are the top agricultural food products last year:

  1. Broilers (chicken) – #4 in US
  2. Hogs – #2 in US
  3. Turkeys – #2 in US
  4. Soybeans
  5. Eggs
  6. Beef
  7. Corn (mostly animal feed)
  8. Sweet potatoes
  9. Beef
  10. Dairy

Clearly protein rules.  It brings double the value of field crops.  But if we rule those out, what about human food field crops?

  1. Sweet potatoes – #1 in US
  2. Peanuts #6 in US
  3. Wheat
  4. Blueberries – #7 in US
  5. Tomatoes – #6 in US
  6. Potatoes
  7. Cucumbers – #3 in US
  8. Peppers
  9. Apples – #8 in US
  10. Strawberries – #3 in US

some-of-the-great-produce

Now we have something to work with!  I’m partial to desserts, so I’ll lobby for sweet potato pie or blueberry cobbler.  But there’s room to negotiate.  Obviously Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without NC.  You can play on the Google doodle here.  Then I ask, what is NC’s favorite recipe?  What’s yours?

 

NC OBX Soap

Memorial Day is here and summertime’s calling!   That summer ringtone means the beach in North Carolina.  We are blessed to have a variety of terrain and seasons in our home state of NC.  Where’s your favorite beach?  From the wild barrier islands to family-friendly open beaches, North Carolina has a coastal home for everyone.  No matter where your getaway is, summer means sand, salt, & sipping something cold.  And we’re right on time.

todd-desantis-14526-unsplash

Welcome home!  (photo by Todd DeSantis)

 

 

Meet our new OBX Sea Salt Soap.  I’ve made it with real sea salt – but only a touch, since it can be drying in large amounts.  In this bar, we get the benefit of the detoxifying properties of sea salt – you know, the kind of seaweed wraps and salt scrubs from fancy spas – and still soothing that sun-worn skin.  The fragrance is a combination of salty ocean air and warm beach grass that brings back the best of the beach (skipping the gritty sand in your pants and fake coconut sunscreen smell).  We finished it off with the Carolina blue sky color and NC stamp that keeps your beach vacation top of mind.

DSC_0193

Take NC’s beaches home and leave the shells for next time

Our Carolina OBX Sea Salt Soap is perfect to take with you on vacation, or to preserve it  when you have to return to reality.  It’s also a sweet gift to thank any beach house host you may be visiting this summer!  Match our OBX soap with a jar of our NC honey and our new Sweet Tea Lip Balm, and you’ve got a beach bag stocked with summer.

DSC_0241

The NC summer beach bag – scents & flavors to keep the vacation going

Maybe you just need a small thank you or a bunch of them.  Got you covered.  All of our soap bars, lip balms, small honey jars and lotion bars each fit (individually) in our mini drawstring bags.  Great teacher gifts, thank yous, or NC favors.  All are available now in our Etsy shop or direct if you know how & where to reach me (hint: click here).

DSC_0196

Give some home this summer

Even if you are only vacationing in your mind, take some time to savor the sweet gifts of the summer season.  Southerners talk slow for a reason.  Slow down and join in.

anda-ambrosini-36095-unsplash

NC tea means iced & sweet – lemon optional but highly valued

 

 

Why Your Mosquito Treatment isn’t Working

Some buzzes are better than others.  Gardeners know this.  The hum of the visiting bumblebee – good.  The high pitched whine of the blood seeking mosquito – bad.  Bugs in the garden are a good thing, unless they are after my skin which is why mosquitos and fire ants are my swore enemies.  But in spring, I start seeing the biggest scare tactic landscape scam pulled on homeowners.  It looks something like this…

logo

Enjoy your yard again!

I think the pitch would be less appealing to homeowners if branded like this …

nobutterfliesno ladybugs

You’ll have fewer butterflies, birds, frogs, lizards, and maybe mosquitos!…

But that would be a different marketing approach, and probably a failed one.  People want to believe in the “smart weapon” approach.  “I hate mosquitos.  This bottle/company/sales rep tells me they will eliminate mosquitos.  I’ll take it!”  But what they aren’t leading with, is that these chemicals are general insecticides.  They kill insects.  All of them.  Just because the bottle shows a mosquito, doesn’t mean the butterflies, dragonflies, bees, and ladybugs got a memo saying “not intended to kill you.”  This process is the equivalent of controlling crabgrass in your yard by spraying Roundup on the entire thing.  Many of these companies leave warnings to wait before using treated areas, cover pet food/water dishes, shut windows, and cover children’s toys.  Why?  To reduce exposure.  You got the memo, but the bugs didn’t.

classifiedreport

The active ingredient in these landscape pesticides is usually from the pyrethrin family, basically a nerve agent for bugs.  To boot, most are organically derived!  So it must be good.  (Then again, arsenic is organic too.)  These chemicals are USDA approved and are perfectly legal to buy and use.  (It’s worth noting here that as a beekeeper, I need a vet to visit my hives and write a prescription for disease treatments.  But insect killer is readily available at any big box store.  Go figure.).   Pyrethroids – synthetic pyrethrins – are highly toxic to fish and cats.  Even dogs can show pyrethrin poisoning.  That’s why you are warned to cover bowls and keep animals off treated areas until dry.

pr19

What makes these insecticides worse is the way they are applied.  It usually involves the ‘more dead bugs is better’ approach.  Backpack mounted sprayers are the weapon of choice for the residential service companies.  They blast a fine mist of pyrethrins on to plants (flowering & not) in the middle of the day when beneficial insects are most active and the mosquitos are at rest.  Homeowners contract these services to provide insect control inside their tidy property lines.  Never mind that next door mosquitos could be breeding like rabbits (or mosquitos) only to drift back over come dusk.  Every 3 weeks this scenario plays out as the company returns to terminate the offending bugs.  And resistance builds.  During the 2016 Zika virus breakout, the EPA acknowledged that mosquito control was less effective than hoped because of mosquito resistance to insecticides.

df988a7014a83b01a9a1a9bb9cfbb71b

Full disclosure – I’m not a hater.  I prefer natural measures but I do use pest control when needed.  But the key to effective treatment is identification.  Do I really have a problem and do I know what it is?  Knowing your enemy allows you to choose the most direct and effective approach for control with the least unintended consequences.  I realize alternatives may be less convenient than stroking a check for yard treatment, but they are often cheaper, more responsible, and more effective.

We generally overlook the natural (and FREE) lethal garden security forces already in our yards – beneficial insects.  These are the real tactical threat to landscape pests.  A strong force of frogs, toads, birds, birds, bats, spiders, predatory wasps, ladybugs and praying mantis is a hearty check on any runaway insect population.  These guys are voracious feeders on just the pests we want to be rid of.  Consider purchasing some of these beneficials to release in your yard.  It’s great fun to release lady bugs whose cheery spots bely their hungry aphid appetites.  Go get ’em girls.

assassin_bug_aug08_02

Assassin bugs are the hit men of the insect world.  Get them working for you.

Next level?  Mosquito birth control.  There are obvious ideas like eliminating standing water areas (birdbaths, empty pots, overturned toys,etc.). But you can go a step further and interrupt the population.  It starts with those donut-shaped mosquito dunks in your local garden center.  They are made with BTI, a bacteria larvicide toxic only to mosquitos – not humans, fish or wildlife.  Early spring is the best time to start.  Put out some small area of shallow water (empty cans, old tupperware, etc.) with a dunk in each.  Female mosquitos will be lured in to lay their eggs, which will never develop into adults.  This halts the breeding cycle.  Leaving no one left to bite.

mosquito

Mosquito birth control!

If you missed the boat there, consider the great advances in repellents.  Our family has used Thermacell units with great success in buggy times.  The newer models cover even greater distances.  Permethrin clothing sprays are handy to apply to outdoor gear.  (You can even buy clothes with it built in).  This holds up for several washes and repels all sorts of biting things (chiggers and ticks most notably).  Permethrin is made from the pyrethrin family but since it is in your fabric, not being broadcast across the flower bed, it’s activity is highly targeted.  Then there is the standard issue citronella and spray-on repellents.  Your mileage may vary.

thermacell-mosqutio-repellent-appliance-holster-with-clip-2_1

Thermacell repellents

Next time you see a ladybug scampering up a stem or a wren nabbing a beetle you can admire your volunteer pest control force.  By combining several of these measures, you can work towards a landscape that is enjoyable for you and the insects we have working on our side.  Thanks for thinking it through.

 

SaveSaveSaveSave

Native Carpenters, Not Boring Bees

What’s eating my deck??  A neighbor of mine recently started this conversation.  So I thought it might be fitting to make an introduction – meet the Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica.  It’s name actually means ‘wood worker’ in Greek.)  These are the shiny black, thumb-sized buzzers investigating everyone’s deck and house this time of year.  They hover around the house at eye level challenging you to elementary school style staring contests.  What’s up with these guys?

eastern-carpenter-bee

Image by Philly Honeyfest

Carpenter bees are one of our native superstar pollinators.  These guys are often confused with bumblebees – due to similar size and color.   An easy difference to distinguish is the fuzz.  Bumbles are furry, Carpenters are mostly shiny.   They are most active in spring and fall as they emerge, mate, and prepare nest cavities.  If you like blueberries, tomatoes, melons or peppers these are some of the hardest working bees we have.  Tomatoes in particular are known to set heavier fruit when pollinated by Carpenter bees.  (Greenhouse growers raise these bees specifically for this purpose).

Even if you just like bird or wildlife in your yard, it is these pollinators who are doing the heavy lifting converting flowers into food for the other locals.  The fact that they are natives makes them highly valuable.  They willingly and happily live right in our yards to do their critical pollinating work, requiring nothing of us.  Except maybe patience.

carpenter-bee-comparison

Image by Kansas State Extension

These are solitary bees who lay eggs in wooden tunnels, and stuff them with food for the future larvae.  The females lay eggs in the wood cavities (also known as ‘galleries’ – sounds fancy, right?) and hang around to meet and defend their offspring who grow throughout the summer and emerge in the fall to feed before clustering for the winter. This time of year wooden decks, swing sets, fences and houses make attractive structures for them to investigate.  Often the males will hover around existing nest sites, defending the area to other bees (and hummingbirds, humans, etc.) who might be moving in on their turf.
c-bee
I get it.  The wood boring part is annoying, especially when it is in something we value.  Technically they are chewing – not eating or boring.  They toss the resulting shavings outside or pack them like particle board along the cavity walls.  My husband has a love/hate with these insects. So what to do?  Offer alternatives.  Carpenter bees greatly prefer soft, unfinished wood for their galleries.  Where none exists, they will choose stained or treated wood but generally don’t recognize painted wood.  They are looking for raw wood – so let’s give them some!  Here are a few ideas:
  • All natural – Leave a small pile of brush, wood pile in your yard.  Don’t spray any chemicals or insecticides and see if they go the natural route.  In reality this is what they are looking for.
  •  Make a condo – A simple unfinished block of wood with a bunch of holes drilled in it offers them an easier nest site than your deck. But size matters. Hole size should be 1/2” diameter and about 3-4” deep.   If possible mount the block 3+ feet off the ground. Offer multiple size holes 1/8″ – 1/2″ to attract a range of different natives.  Drill on the end grain to make it even more appealing.
  • Give them their own house – Many local garden centers sell solitary bee houses that are quite attractive.  Hang these early in the spring to give the Carpenters an easy choice.
71o2bos6sryl-_sy355_

Store-bought – Image by amazon

img_5340

DIY condo – Image by Bugblog

What if they have already moved in to your deck?  Carpenter bees are attracted to existing holes.  These can and should be plugged with cork or dowels and sanded to match.  Do this after the holes have been vacated!  Otherwise, they will chew through your fix.  When a neighbor asks what you are doing, you can casually respond “Oh, I’m just filling my galleries.”  Carpenter bee traps exist but obviously kill the insects and reduce our native bee population.  Use them as a last resort.
logo

The promise

nobutterflies

Unintended result

Insecticides are a terrible option. They kill all insects (butterflies, ladybugs, bees etc.) and the wildlife which feed on them (birds, toads, salamanders, etc).  I realize many insecticides show the big NO mosquitos logo.  But they fail to disclose that pyrethrins (the common and even organic sprays) are general purpose killers.  These are nerve agents that kill all bugs dead – on contact.  Spraying for insects in our landscapes destroys the food chain of wildlife, including us – especially if you garden, bird watch, or keep chickens.
I’m working on a separate post on mosquitos, as this is the time of year those neighborhood signs start popping up promising a bug-free outdoors.  It might be a chance to save you some money and defend our superheroes.   Keep an eye out for that and this spring, try offering our native bees the natural home they seek and they may just pollinate your garden and skip your deck.

The Buzz in Your Lawn

How many types of bees can you name?  Honeybees, bumblebees, carpenter bees… All correct but you are 498 short of naming all the native bees that live in NC.  (Honeybees aren’t technically native, but they have ancestors who were, thus the southern buzz).   Yep, over 500 species of bees call NC home and do the important task of pollinating in our landscapes.

It’s this time of year with nature in full bloom that our native bees are on parade.  And they live very different lives than their honeybee cousins.  Most natives are solitary bees who nest in the ground (about 80% are ground dwellers).  They are NOT the same as yellow jackets – who belong to the wasp family.  Here is the difference:

Yellow jackets = wasps = large colony in the ground = hit it with lawnmower = pain

Miners = bees = single bee in the ground = pollinate your plants = food/berries

      Wasp                     Ground Bee

440px-european_wasp_white_bg  vs.   dsc_1541

I realize it is a bit hard to tell in the heat of the moment.  But these little ‘miner’ bees are one of our hometown heroes of pollination.  They need your undisturbed natural areas & understanding to turn flowers into fruit for us and the local wildlife.

Ground bees are NOT fire ants (who clearly prove Hell is real and who have a great appetite for my ankles).  The tiny, individual miner bee mounds cannot compare to the heaps of earth moved by a colony of fire ants.  But the bee mounds can be found in clusters which can be confusing.  Let’s investigate…

Fire ants = ants = large colony in a mound = goes ballistic when disturbed = pain

Miners = bees = single bees forming mounds = busy working in your yard = food/berries

   Fire Ants (aka demons)    vs.          Ground Bees

mound_sidewalk_0031_drees             multi-digger-bee-nests-2

I’ll be writing more articles in the future on our other native bees (like the shiny carpenter bee who keeps hovering at eye level when you go out on the deck).  In the meantime, learn more about our local bee friends in this timely article from the NC Cooperative Extension on the differences and importance of this species of native bees.

Pest Alert: Ground Bees Active but Do Not Threaten People or Yards

— Written By N.C. Cooperative ExtensionFrom: Steve Frank, Extension Entomologist

As I write this my front yard is abuzz with small bees. Many are flying around just above the ground while others fly back and forth to redbuds and camellias gathering pollen.

Although these bees do not generally sting I watch as mothers nervously cross the street with strollers. Neighbors pass by and comment “Watch out for all those fire ants” referring to the small mounds that dot my sparsely vegetated lawn. Others offer suggestions on how to rid myself of these dangerous beasts that are “tearing up your lawn.”

Bee emerging from its mound

The bees I am watching are ground nesting bees in the family Andrenidae. All the species in this family are solitary and nest in the ground. Solitary means they do not maintain vast hives with hundreds of workers like honeybees or yellow jackets. A single female bee builds the nest by burrowing into the ground. She prepares larval cells where eggs will be laid. Mothers provision each brood cell with a mixture of pollen and nectar called bee bread that serves as food for young larvae. After laying an egg she closes the brood cell and starts another. After completing several brood cells the mother will seal the entrance and leave the nest to begin a new nest. After a few weeks she will die leaving the next generation safe in the ground. In spring bees complete development and emerge as adults that dig their way out of the ground and forage for pollen and nectar to provision their own nests. The visual spectacle of these bees is produced largely by males who swarm over nests trying to mate with newly emerged females. The other noticeable aspect of these bees is the small mounds of dirt excavated for each nest.

bee on finger

Hundreds of small mounds and swarms of bees often trigger calls to exterminators or landscape professionals. Homeowners fear that they will be attacked and stung as they bend over to pick up the paper and they believe that the bees are actively damaging their yard and want them gone. This is not the case.

An ovipositor is the organ female insects use to insert eggs into substrates such as leaves, wood, soil, other insects, or in our case brood cells. In social insects such as honeybees, most of the females are workers that do not mate or lay eggs and thus have no need for an ovipositor. However, they do need to protect the nest from invaders. Therefore, the ovipositor of these species has evolved into a stinger to ward off threats.

Bee on Finger

With this in mind it is easy to understand why the threat of being stung by the ground nesting bees in my yard is so small. First, the bees swarming around are mostly males. Males don’t lay eggs and thus do not have an ovipositor modified or otherwise. The female bees are responsible for all aspects of nest construction and provisioning and are busy digging and foraging. Since the ovipositor of ground nesting bees is necessary for laying eggs, it is not well developed as a stinger if at all. I won’t say that you will never be stung because this would encourage some fool to torment bees until they proved me wrong. However, I have handled these bees quite a bit and never been stung.

These bees prefer to nest in dry, sparsely vegetating areas. Therefore if you have bees nesting in your lawn it is because the grass is thin and soil dry. The bees don’t make it this way they just take advantage of the conditions. If anything the bees are providing a valuable service by aerating the lawn!

The behavior and habitat preference of these bees leads us to the most promising ways to reduce their abundance in a particular yard. First they like dry soil they can dig nests in. Therefore, irrigation over the 3-4 weeks bees are active will encourage them to find other nest sites and reduce their abundance the following year. In addition, they like thin lawns with plenty of bare spots. Thus, you can take measures to improve the density of your grass to make it less appealing to bees. Native bees are an important part of ecosystems and food production. We should take steps to protect these bees or at least use non-lethal means to encourage them to nest somewhere else.

Compounding Flavor (quick recipes!)

Holidays mean food.  I can’t actually think of any exception to that rule.  And it’s a good thing.  The problem with holiday food is time – guests or not, there’s rarely enough time to make everything you might envision.  So pick what you can/want to make and what you buy.  Dress up the store-bought stuff with some creativity and you get accolades with less work.  The world’s quickest trick to perk up the Easter table and make things look fancy & well thought out is compound butter.

This idea was pointed out to me by my former-chef sister-in-law, Kathleen, who has graciously agreed to lend her culinary creativity to our products.  (More to come on her amazing recipe ideas in future posts!)

Compound butter is simple because there aren’t hard & fast rules.  Use what you have, follow some basic proportions and it’s pretty much a guaranteed win.  Sweet or savory.  Vegan and dairy-free substitutions ok!  All can & should be made ahead.  Plus they can be frozen for months of use!

Here are a few recipes to get you going:

Savory Thoughts

herbs

Mix up the herbs

Spring Herb Butter – great for rolls, vegetables (mashed potatoes!), & meat

  • 1 tablespoon each minced fresh parsley, thyme and chives
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 pound softened unsalted butter

Prep:  Mix herbs and salt into butter; form into log, wrap in wax paper and refrigerate.

Lemon Caper Butter -also great for rolls and veggies

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons capers

Prep:  Stir butter until smooth. Add in remaining ingredients and combine.  Wrap in wax paper in log form, twisting ends to seal.  Refrigerate 2-3 hours.  Slice as use as needed.

Sweet Idea

honey collection

Use good quality honey

Cinnamon Honey Butter – use on warm rolls, biscuits, corn bread, pancakes, waffles, oatmeal….

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons raw honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Prep: stir or whip butter until light and smooth.  Stir in the honey & cinnamon until combined.  Mold into log, wrap in wax paper and refrigerate a few hours to set.

Variations:

Chile Honey – Substitute Chile honey for plain honey above and omit cinnamon.  Great

IMG_8795

Chile honey

Other flavor ideas: cranberry orange pistachio , cilantro lime, roasted garlic, and whatever else you like to pair up!

Please feel free to post comments on other combinations you enjoy.  Happy Easter!

 

 

 

Boxes in Trees

I did a double take driving up the driveway last week.  A strange sight caught the corner of my eye.  It looked odd even though I was the one who put it there.  Just not something you see everyday, a box in a tree.  If it had’t been so level it could have been a prop from Twister or Wizard of Oz.

the-twister-the-wizard-of-oz-5590262-355-415

Not a swarm box

I’ve been busy putting up swarm boxes across 2 counties this year.  The general idea is that a beekeeper can entice wild bees to relocate into our equipment and save us money from buying packages of bees.  Plus, we theoretically get bees who have naturally overwintered in our area and are hardy, “survivor” bees.  (Plus we save the $125 for a package of bees.). All good stuff.

IMG_9266

My Box at Ninja Cow Farm

Once a colony of bees decides to split up and swarm, the reigning queen & roughly half of the colony needs to find a new home.  Out go the real estate scout bees to find a variety of suitable locations for consideration.  The swarm leaves the old hive encase and  congregates on a nearby branch, tree, mailbox and have a rousing debate of Love it or List it until one scout bee convinces the group to choose her preferred location.  And off they go.

IMG_7893

Camera under-representing chaos & noise of a swarm

Beekeepers usually get phonically about the congregating stage.  “There’s a ball of bees on my house!”  Beekeeper promptly shifts to high gear to catch the swarm before the location decision is cemented.  Swarm boxes are kind of the opposite.  Instead of interrupting the impending swarm – we try to lure it in.

Beekeepers disagree about the value of swarms (and every other topic related to beekeeping).  Some think we should keep bees who aren’t prone to swarming, but this is a hard-wired characteristic.  It’s possible to breed it out (a la chicken example from my last post) but I’m not so sure it’s a good idea.  So I’m trying my hand with swarms this year.  Nothing ventured, nothing up a tree.  Or something like that.

If you braved Bug Out Shelter Part I, you may recall that 1 deep hive body has become known as the preferred home size for bees. We come up with all sorts of containers to put out as swarm traps (flower pots, coolers, homemade traps, etc.). I went the simple route and just ratcheted a deep hive into a tree. If I am fortunate enough to lure a swarm, I can move the frames out or take the whole thing down as a mobile home.

IMG_9229

This one was fun on a ladder

The rumored key to swarm traps is old comb.  It smells like cozy bees, has already furnished living space, and maybe some food stores – no place like home!  So this year all of my swarm boxes are outfitted with some grungy, well-loved comb and lots of places for them to build new digs.  I’ll be interested to see which (if any) sites bring in swarms.  Hopefully they will indeed be wild bees (not swarms from my own hives).

So keep your eyes peeled for balls of bees on mailboxes, or boxes in trees.  And stay tuned for Bug Out Shelter – Part II (coming soon) where I talk about my spring swarm strategy for my own hives.  These boxes in trees may be my last resort to catch wayward splits if my management strategy goes south.  So, pretty much a given.